The offshore wind sector is playing an increasingly important role in providing jobs and economic growth along Britain’s North Sea coast.
More than one in ten people live in coastal communities, reflecting the UK’s maritime tradition and the historic importance of its ports to the economy. Many of these places face profound social and economic challenges stemming from the decline of traditionally strong local industries such as fishing.
Our new report examines the economic journey of Grimsby, once the pre-eminent fishing port in the country, to become a national hub for offshore wind. The experience of Grimsby shows how strong, consistent renewables policy has helped to secure offshore wind investment and create jobs in struggling coastal communities. It shows how a local economy, which had suffered catastrophic declines, has benefited from the growth of renewables over a 15 year period.
Hundreds of new jobs and millions of pounds invested
Grimsby serves the needs of five operational wind farms: Lynn, Inner Dowsing, Lincs, Westermost Rough and Humber Gateway. And the port will soon benefit from the construction of a sixth at Race Bank. These developments have brought hundreds of new jobs to the town. We spoke to ten companies active in Grimsby’s offshore wind sector, spread across large multinationals and local SMEs. They alone account for 231 direct offshore wind jobs in the town. Two of them have confirmed plans to create more permanent offshore wind jobs in Grimsby over the next two years.
Tens of millions of pounds have been invested in new infrastructure and facilities in Grimsby’s docks. DONG Energy, has invested over £5 million on a purpose built base in the Royal Dock to serve Westermost Rough and AIS Training is investing £10 million to service the sector.
A typical offshore wind turbine has an operating life of 25 years, so these wind farms will support jobs in Grimsby for at least a generation.
National energy policy has been a key factor
A number of factors explain Grimsby’s rise as an offshore wind hub, including its proximity to planned wind farm sites, as well as its existing port facilities and skilled maritime workforce.
However, continuity of government energy policy has been just as important. For over a decade, successive governments have given clear support for offshore wind, allowing the industry to thrive and plan ahead.
Unfortunately, profound uncertainty around the industry has crept in as the current government has become much less clear regarding its intentions for low carbon energy. This could be particularly damaging for offshore wind and the economies of towns like Grimsby, given it takes seven to ten years to develop a wind farm and the huge costs in doing so.
In Grimsby, big multinationals and local SMEs alike are watching for signals from government about the future. The potential for growth in the town is huge: the Westermost Rough wind farm alone has attracted more than £10 million of infrastructure investment into Grimsby’s docks and created dozens of jobs. Planned wind farms such as Triton Knoll and Hornsea could have similar impacts. However, uncertainty over future renewables support makes it unclear when, or even if, they will ever be built.
Decisions to be taken soon will decide offshore wind prospects
The government will shortly be taking significant decisions that will shape the UK’s energy sector for the next decade and beyond. Later this week the government is launching its long awaited energy policy ‘reset’. And, by the middle of 2016, it will have set the next levy control framework, the funding mechanism for low carbon electricity projects.
Nowhere in the world is better placed than the UK to benefit from offshore wind. Grimsby demonstrates how with the right policy environment, coastal communities and businesses can exploit the opportunities offered by this sector and thrive.
We’ll be watching closely to see if the government takes the opportunity in this week’s energy policy reset to demonstrate that it understands this, and can offer a vision that is as relevant to apprentices in Grimsby as it is to Chinese nuclear investors.
Growing the UK’s coastal economy: learning from the success of offshore wind in Grimsby is published today by Green Alliance